Friday, December 31, 2010

Stay interested to live for ever: the man who disagreed but the Guardian thinks it's worth a punt

The big news of the week is that, quite apart from not being able to retire at 65, the government is now insisting that we all live to be at least 100. I can’t see the point myself. Reporting the news on Radio 4 yesterday, some hack managed to dig up an 108-year-old woman who said being over 100 wasn’t at all bad as long as you still managed to ‘take an interest in life’. To my ears, that sounds rather like establishing that staying alive is not particularly difficult ‘as long as you keep eating food and drinking water’. I once knew an old codger (I should write ‘older codger’ because the young things at work regard me as an ‘old codger’ these days) who lived to be 92. You can say he ‘still kept an interest in life’ because he carried on writing a newspaper column until more of less the week he died. It had appeared four days a week for the first 33 he worked on it (he didn’t actually establish it, although he took over were soon after it was established), and then weekly for the last 15 years. I shan’t say who it was, because that might strike some as name-dropping (and over these past few days I am becoming very sensitive and have become aware that my every jot and tittle might well be minutely scrutinised for any sign of flawed humanity - see below), but I include a cartoon from the chap’s column (tho’ as it’s in colour, I wonder whether it actually appeared, because
columnar illustrations were always in black and white) which, as it happens - I think be design - bears a marked resemblance to the chap himself. This guy was extremely well-read, known for his dislike of cant of any kind, sharp and very, very funny. I only knew him in the last 20 years of his life and towards the end he did rather lose interest in what went on. This puzzled me at first until I realised that by the time you have reached your 90s you will most certainly not have heard it all, but you will most certainly have heard a great deal of it. And as many of us have a very bad habit of repeating - regurgitating would be more accurate - what we have read and largely misunderstood, hearing some piece of mangled wisdom or a misquoted mangled witticism for the umpteenth time must get more than a little tedious. So he did get a little morose in his final years, although he and his wife managed two annual trips go Cornwall until the year he died.

. . .

Most certainly there are enough lively and quote-worthy centenarians to go around - more than enough for most industrious hacks to track down to obtain the necessary quote - but I feel that does put a rather phoney gloss on the issue. For example, almost four years ago, my stepmother suffered a very severe stroke and is now housebound. It happened when she had just turned 70, and the irony of it all is that compared to many her age, she was extremely active, spending all day gardening in the gardening seasons and taking her two dogs for a walk twice a day - one walk always being a long one, usually on the moor. She didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink a lot and she eat healthily, but suddenly had a stroke.

. . .

I’m sure we all know ‘old Jim’ or ‘old Susan’ who put man and women half their age to shame, they’re so active. But then I’m sure, if we’re honest, also know among our acquaintance many who, in attitude and outlook, have rather more than one metaphorical foot in the grave. I personally get thoroughly fed up with those around my age, and even younger, who wallow in nostalgia and bemoan how it’s all gone to the dogs and why, oh why, can’t they right a good tune these days! More acerbic - for which read wilfully critical readers - might now ask in that case, what on earth am I doing earning my daily shekel in the employ of a certain newspaper, to which I would reply: it’s very simple - I’m earning my daily shekel, and their shekel is as good as any one else’s shekel. And anyway, all that ‘golden age’ bullshit is nothing but an extremely successful marketing strategy. (Incidentally, it has occurred to me more than one: was there ever a golden age of golden ages? Is so that must have been a hell of a time.) As for successful marketing strategies, isn’t it about time the Guardian came up with one. I read the other day that it had sold off the Manchester Evening News to the Trinity Group, which strikes me as extremely daft beyond the call of duty, given that the Guardian hasn’t turned a profit in over 300 years and was wholly subsidised by the MEN and other local papers in GMG Regional Media. I have just looked it up and note the sale last March was for ‘£7.4m in cash and £37.4m in the value of a printing contract from which Trinity Mirror’, which I, who admittedly knows nothing about these matters, would have thought was pretty cheap. The remaining part of the Guardian Media Group is said to have ‘a strong portfolio which has to be in the right shape to achieve’ the goal ‘of securing the future of the Guardian in perpetuity’.
By the way, many cite ‘the Scott Trust’ as proof that at the heart of the Guardian beats a liberal conscience which eschews turning a profit as its prime motivating principle. The Trust itself claims the Trust was set up to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian’. Well, not quite: it seems the Trust was established as a means of avoiding pay death duties which the then owner of the MEN felt could cripple the company. It has since been wound up and a limited company, The Scott Trust Limited, is now in charge. So bullshit isn’t just the sole preserve of the right-wing press.

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